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BAE proposes autonomous combat drone to work alongside fighter pilots

Fri 10 Jun 2016

BAE Taranis

UK defence and security company BAE Systems has unveiled plans to build the world’s first autonomous military drone, proposing a scenario where unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) would work alongside conventional manned aircraft.

The multinational described a war-plane drone which would advance its existing Taranis model to penetrate through enemy lines and fly ahead of traditional piloted aircraft to destroy ground bases.

The new BAE drone, which will be the product of a 10-year collaboration with French organisations, is expected to carry its own air-to-ground weapons, with most of the bombs and missile attacks left to piloted jets.

Martin Rowe-Willcocks, head of business development for future combat air systems at BAE explained at a press briefing that current combat drones are typically controlled by a pilot on the ground, however the new aircraft will be able make operational decisions autonomously – contacting a ground-based controller only to initiate attack.

He emphasised that the drone would not replace conventional military planes, such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, but would instead support them in coordinated attacks.

The Franco-British partnership, which was established in March of this year, has drafted plans to build a £2 billion demonstrator drone which are expected to be approved by the two countries’ governments within the next twelve months.

In 2014, both governments channelled funds into a £120 million two-year feasibility study [PDF] involving BAE and France-based aviation group Dassault, which sought to combine Taranis with a parallel French program, named nEUROn, to create a ‘Future Combat Air System’.

Other companies involved in the project will include jet-engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce Holdings and Safran, and French defence giant Thales.

According to Rowe-Willcocks, Britain and France are competing for the current U.S. lead in the development of military UAVs, although he admitted we would not be seeing any air-to-air war drones in operation in the near future.


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